The minke whale surfaced for a breath of air when a harpoon hit her body. She thrashed around, but she couldn’t get away. She died slowly, and probably painfully, as her blood stained the ocean red.
The harpoon ship that struck her reeled her body in. Once she was onboard, the fishermen cut her up so they could sell her meat.
Warning: Graphic photos below
This is exactly what Norway plans to start doing this April, when the country commences its annual whale hunt in the Arctic. This year, the goal is to kill 999 minke whales, which is higher than last year’s quota of 880.
While other whaling nations like Japan and Iceland have received lots of media attention for their whale hunts, Norway is currently the largest whaling nation in the world, killing more whales each year than Iceland and Japan combined.
The hunt happens despite the fact it’s illegal to hunt whales under international law, and has been since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) placed a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. Japan found a loophole to the moratorium, continuing to whale for so-called scientific purposes. Norway, however, simply objected to the moratorium, and has continued to commercially hunt whales.
A Norwegian whaler standing behind a harpoon on a whaling vessel
But animal welfare advocates argue that Norway’s whale hunts are inhumane. Hunters shoot whales with grenade harpoons that have spring-loaded “claws” on their tips. When the harpoon hits the whale, it embeds itself deeply in the whale’s flesh — not only does this slowly and painfully kill them, but it’s used to haul their body onto the deck of the whaling vessel. If the whales don’t die right away, the hunters will shoot them with rifles.
This minke whale struggled for over an hour after being harpooned, according to Michael Tenten of IMMCS, so the hunter eventually shot her.
In some cases, according to Michael Tenten, cofounder of the German chapter of International Marine Mammal Conservation Society (IMMCS), the hunts can go on for hours before the whale finally dies. In fact, one hunt supposedly went on for 333 minutes, which Tenten learned after he and a colleagueboarded a Norwegian whaling ship in 2016.
“We both don’t want to think about what had happened on a 333-minute procedure,” Tenten told The Dodo.
A photo of the online logbook of a Norwegian whaling ship. Whale hunt number 19 is marked as taking 333 minutes to complete.
“The grenade hits the whale’s body and detonates, causing massive trauma,” Kate O’Connell, a marine wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Dodo. “We firmly believe that there is no humane way to kill a whale, and that commercial whaling is inherently cruel.”
A dead minke whale on a Norwegian whaling ship
Another unfortunate facet of the hunt is that that Norwegian whalers they tend to go after females — and most of them are pregnant. In fact, 90 percent of harpooned whales turn out to be pregnant females, according to new documentary about whaling in Norway
A harpoon being shot at a whale
“Pregnant whales are slower swimmers,” Astrid Fuchs, lead of programs at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), told The Dodo. “They are easy to harpoon. And the whalers can’t tell apart a pregnant whale from a nonpregnant whale, let alone a male from a female, because usually you just see the tip of the back, and not the whole animal.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists minke whales as a species of “least concern,” yet Fuchs believes that the taking of pregnant females — or any whale, for that matter — can still have devastating effects on the population.
A Norwegian whaling ship
“Emerging scientific evidence shows that whales have a culture, and individuals are really important to the group in terms of knowledge of where the best feeding grounds are, and teaching the younger whales where to go,” Fuchs said.
Removing whales from the ocean can also wreak havoc on the marine environment, according to Paul Watson, the president of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which actively opposes global whaling activities.
A dead whale on the ship of a Norwegian whaling vessel
“The more whales, the healthier the oceans, because whales provide the nitrogen and the iron that is necessary for a vital phytoplankton population,” Watson told The Dodo. “Phytoplankton populations have diminished 40 percent by 1950, primarily because of the diminishment of whale population.”
Whales cutting up a dead whale on board their ship
Despite opposition from scientists, the Norwegian hunts continue, though it’s unclear why. Few people in Norway actually want to eat whale meat, so the demand is low, and Norway ends up
exporting most of the meat to Japan.
Whale meat for sale in Norway
Last year, it was revealed that Norway has used its whale meat to feed animals at fur farms, whose skins would be used to make coats and other clothing items.
“We are stunned that Norway, as otherwise a leader in nature conservation, kills the most whales worldwide — most of them pregnant females,” Nicolas Entrup, consultant to OceanCare, a marine wildlife protection group, told The Dodo. “We are hopeful that this practice will cease very soon in the face of mounting international protest. There is no need and no place for commercial whaling in the 21st century.”
Norwegian whale hunters on their ship
While it might seem like a behemoth task to stop Norway from whaling, organizations like OceanCare, AWI, WDC and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are working hard to draw attention to the issue in an effort to stop it. There are also smaller groups working on the issue, such as the German chapter of the IMMCS, which has been working to film and photograph the Norwegian whales hunts.
A minke whale swimming freely in the waters off Norway